Kicking the tires

In the hot, cruel desert of this space, wind howled in solitude. A stone statue lay on the ground like a man asleep, succumbing to its own weight, mental and physical. For more than one year, no stirring. The sun shines on again today. A wanderer passes by on a camel, and looks at the strange statue. He swears that he saw it moving.

I haven’t written a word on this blog since more than one year. I figured it was high time to make some effort to hammer it back into shape.

The long hiatus, and why it grew so strong

I have spent some time thinking about the reasons for which I stopped updating the content. Laziness is a reason, of course; but also something deeper.

I had designed this blog in 2013 with the help of a good book, Antonio Cangiano’s Technical Blogging. I idolized his words (as alas I do too often with too many maîtres à penser), and wanted to faithfully follow them. Now don’t take me wrong, I still think highly of Antonio as a colleague; only I came to the conclusion that his book was not really meant to suggest me this particular strategy, but that it was me instead who interpreted it that way.

One of his pieces of advice was to focus on one topic; and I decided, since for some obscure and uncontrollable fate I was knee-deep into C++, to write about that. The twist, since I recognize my lack of experience and expertise, was that I wanted to use the blog to document my findings and my efforts, and to be held accountable of some amount of progress, however marginal, but unstoppable. Ah that, that I love. Constant growth.

But then, expectedly, unexpected happened. I started having a hard time at work, from lack of challenges, among other boring things. And so C++ became, in my eye, the tool that I used during my daily job, and that I associated with the hard time and the stress and a lot of things which have nothing to do with the technology itself, but made me respect it less as a scaffold to build my spirit in the time I’ve got to strengthen my knowledge (because it is this I do every moment).

Make it right

I mixed two parts of reading and one part of living, and at some point I saw the truth. I was not growing. I was stuck for some reason; of course, I was missing out on the blog being an instrument of improvement, but I didn’t mind that at the moment. I was not growing because I was not explicitly planning for it. Because I was not fighting to make it happen, letting it go, for whatever definition of it. I needed to rebuild a sustainable process of growth, from its foundations. The spark of this revolution, by the way, was a talk at the ACCU conference, with the apt name Becoming a Better Programmer, by Pete Goodliffe.

So I started thinking of a process to engineer improvement back into my day. I remembered reading something like Do 3 or 4 things, every day, for 12 weeks; then measure and adapt. I think it was Seth Godin, but later wasn’t able to find out. I needed to adapt this process to a day without predictable time tables, by making a very few assumptions; two, to be precise:

  1. I know when I enter the office, but I can’t be sure when I get out
  2. I want to make sports to be mentally efficient

I started with 2 things, then improved on that. So far it is going well. I use Toggl for time tracking, but this is just a detail. (It is serving me well though).

I manage to squeeze 2 45-minutes blocks, which I assign to an activity each; currently, it is reading Computer Systems: A Programmer’s Perspective and learning Racket. I have started on August 24, 2015, and November 8 will mark the 12 weeks milestone, at which point I will measure the experience. I could not wait until then to squeeze in some other activity, and in my case, I kindly vexed myself with an additional 30-minute block a day of reading Josuttis’ tutorial on the C++ Standard Library.

Thoughts

This is a plan; sometimes, I don’t manage to follow it. But it is definitely better to have plan than not to, so I’ll stick with this, and only change my mind every 3 months or so. This helps me keep my focus, and not being drained away by all the shiny stuff I run into. It also helps me arrive at the end of the funnel.

This is about my growth as an engineer. One language does not define my activity; and I want to describe exactly that, the struggle, and not only presenting in my own way the results, that can be found in books.

This blog is part of a larger project, Gergelim, which is my attempt at describing who I am by showing what I do, and by reflecting on the process. The information in the website, and the one on this blog, are meant to be grown like a plant, rather than to be thrown on a page with a date, and forgotten, and get stale, and stay partial, incomplete.

I have a couple of ideas to also improve the whole project, and they involve the transformation of the website into a wiki, to be kept together with the blog. Linearity and hyperlinks. More on this in later posts.